With the transfer of the Postulancy program from Wilmington, DE to Silver Spring, MD, the postulants and simply professed will be under the same roof once again. Holy Name Province is blessed to have eight incoming postulants this year. Their arrival sparked this reflection.
Having now completed two years of the six-year formation process to become a Franciscan friar, I feel that I have learned a thing or two worth sharing with those discerning religious life. Obviously, my experience is quite particular to my Order, province, gender, and age, but I think that there’s something universal that can be shared with all who are discerning religious life: Give it two years.
What I mean by that is be patient. The entire formation process to become a Franciscan Friar is long (one year of postulancy, one year of novitiate, and four years of temporary profession.) It doesn’t happen overnight, and for good reason. Discernment takes time. Spiritual growth takes time. Building relationships in fraternity takes time. It takes so much time, in fact, that there is a two-year period between entering postulancy and making one’s first official commitment, simple profession. Be patient.
Being patient means giving yourself completely to the program. The first two years are not like the rest of friar life, nor does it claim to be. It is a period of deep spiritual discernment, exposure to a new way of life to try new things, the transformation of self, and the laying of a foundation that will last the rest of your life. These are all critically important. These are all critically tedious and frustrating at times as well. There will be workshops, sharing sessions, confrontations, suggestions and critiques, activities, and people in general that will seem so useless and trivial at the time that you’re going to ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing here?” Sometimes, it’s simply humility and patience that will get you through it. And you will. But I cannot stress it enough: stay open, especially in these times! There have been countless grace-filled moments over the past few years that I didn’t recognize at the time, and had I not been open to try new things, even in the frustrating times, I would have never seen them. Give yourself to the program.
Lastly, most important of all, giving yourself completely to the program means giving up thinking about “all the things I could be doing.” I could be getting a degree; I could be helping the poor; I could be dating; I could be making money; I could be furthering my career; I could be out with friends doing the things we used to do. You’re right: you could be. But you’re not. You’re a part of a once in a lifetime opportunity in which people will take care of everything for you so that you can better know God, yourself, and how that relationship fits with others. Trust me when I say that this is an invaluable opportunity for anyone, even for those who discern away from the friars.
And so I say again, give it two years. What’s two years of your life in the grand scheme of things? Sure, you could discern out, and you would “lose” two years, but think about how much more of an attentive husband, faithful and knowledgeable layperson, effective boss, and empathetic neighbor two years of such an in-depth spiritual program could make you. And if the worst-case scenario were only that, you discern out of religious life after two years a better person, it would seem that you’re risking almost nothing in order to gain everything. What if, on the other hand, that tiny spark of a calling you feel now becomes so enflamed after two years that you can’t think of anything else to do but devote your entire life to God and neighbor? What a wonderful two years that would be.
I now leave you with a prayer that has been very helpful over the past two years in my own discernment, a prayer that has kept me patient in my vocation in good times and bad. May it give you the same peace that it gave me to know that God is working in my life, even if it’s not always obvious.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.